Why the Mayor and TfL are wrong about Blackfriars Bridge...

Proposals by Transport for London to re-design the northern junction of Blackfriars Bridge have been making waves across the cycling blogosphere recently.  Transport for London (TfL) insist their plans are necessary to ensure motorised traffic on the bridge doesn't come to a standstill.  Cyclists are furious that the plans seem to completely discount their presence and encourages car traffic over people on two wheels, despite the fact that at peak times cyclists make up the largest group on the bridge.
Last Monday was just another typical misty March morning on Blackfriars Bridge, and I thought I'd take my camera along to see what was really happening down there... 

At present the speed limit on the northern junction of the bridge is 20mph - TfL's plans include raising this to 30mph.  At present there are just two traffic lanes each way.  In places, TfL plan to increase this to three lanes, whilst narrowing the cycle lanes to just 1.5 metres (the very minimum advised by cycling design standards), or removing the cycle lane completely, such as on the south-bound section of the junction which will pass the new Blackfriars station.  TfL claim their plans are necessary to ensure pedestrian capacity is increased, whilst 'smoothing the traffic flow' - one of Mayor Boris Johnson's favourite policies. (Boris is, incidentally the Chair of TfL.)  What did I see between 08.30AM and 09.00AM last Monday?  Endless tailbacks of idling taxis, because the current design is so poor?  Miles of motor cars waiting to squeeze through the junction?  Buses held hostage to a traffic jam brought about by the current poor resolution of the road layout?  Judge for yourself in the video I've put together, below.  For fun, see if you can count how many cyclists appear in it.  If you can't quite keep up with that, try and count how many cyclists vs. how many cars are heading north-bound in the continuos shot between 01.04 and 01.26 minutes - I think even TfL would be surprised by the answer...

'Smoothing traffic flow' is a fractious policy aimed solely at only promoting the needs of motorised traffic.  It is incompatible with providing for the needs of cyclists and pedestrians and bringing about a 'cycling revolution', as is clearly shown by these designs.  Both are meant to be Mayoral policies.  Encouraging people to cycle in order to relieve congestion on the public transport, but then expecting those who do take to two wheels to endure motorway-style conditions, purely to appease the smallest group of road users (ie private motorists) is a disgrace and a shame to any purportedly forward-thinking city.

When I met Danish urban design guru Professor Jan Gehl in London recently, one quote of his really resonated with me; "We don't have to think like 1960s traffic engineers anymore."  Sadly it would seem that no-one has briefed TfL about this.  If they go ahead with their plans - and it's only because of the excellent work of the Cyclists in the City blog that we have a chance to 'consult' with them and stop them - this key cycling artery will become a nightmare for all those bankers, clerks, designers, retailers, administrators and other professionals who are using the bridge every day in order to get to and from their jobs in the City by bike;

Cyclists wanting to turn north into Queen Victoria Street currently cross one lane of traffic.  Under the new plans they'll have to 'take the lane', then move right across two more lanes of much faster traffic in order to do so.  You won't be able to filter and will be squeezed in by a giant, and seemingly superfluous traffic island.

Heading south, past the future Blackfriars Station entrance, at present there's a fair attempt at a cycle lane and one lane of 20mph traffic.  Under the new plans the cycle lane will disappear completely, and people on bikes will be forced to compete for space with two lanes of fast moving traffic, speeding up as it approaches the open expanses of the bridge proper.  Considering that the approach roads to this junction only provide one lane for traffic, and at the present slower speed this doesn't seem to cause traffic chaos, what could be the motivation for taking such a retrograde and out-dated step?

This design is not just bad for cyclists, it's poor for pedestrians, too.  Whilst many of the disgusting and perpetually piss-stained underpasses beneath the junction will be closed and replaced with staggered surface level crossings for people on foot, the extremely popular and very busy crossing at Watergate to the Blackfriars Pub will disappear completely - all in the name of 'smoothing traffic flow'.

What's more, TfL are not just thinking in the past, they're planning in the past too.  In a letter to TfL London Assembly Members John Biggs and Val Shawcross have noted with horror that the modal share figures that TfL are using to justify this scheme are from 2007 - 4 years ago!  How many more cyclists use Blackfriars now, compared to 4 years ago?  How much has private motorised traffic fallen during this stage?  Considering the introduction of the Cycle Superhighways, the Barclays Cycle Hire Scheme (there are plenty of 'Boris Bikes' to spot in the video) and the sustained upward growth in cycling numbers, how future proof and therefore value for money is this scheme?

Lastly, TfL have form with Blackfriars Bridge.  Some of us can remember their last attempts at re-designing this stretch of road with a cycle lane that ran down the middle of two lanes of fast moving traffic which lead to two cyclists being killed before the street design was ripped out and replaced with what we have now.  I'm beginning to question our transport authority's ability to design roads in anything other than the 'cars are the future' 60s modernist model at all...

And of course, this isn't just about the junction at Blackfriars Bridge at all.  The same 'designers' who came up with this outdated, ill-thought out and poorly modelled idea are also responsible for spaces in our city like the Vauxhall gyratory, Hyde Park Corner, Bishopsgate, Old Street roundabout...

If, like me, you are extremely concerned about the potentially negative impact that these designs could have on cyclist's safety and convenience, then I am afraid that it is time to get involved and pick up your pens.  Cyclists in the City blog have pressurised TfL into opening the entire scheme up for consultation for just a few weeks to April 15th, and this is the only chance you will have to make a difference.  Indeed, so cock-sure are TfL that they are going to go ahead and build this terrifying scheme anyway, they've already produced an 'FAQ' list on the scheme's consultation page which tries to dismiss cyclist's concerns.

I don't buy it, and will be writing to TfL later today to tell them that I don't.  To ensure that pressure is kept up please write about your concerns to the consultation address, which is STEngagement@tfl.gov.uk. I will also be CC'ing Boris Johnson as Chair of TfL and our so-called 'cycling Mayor' (mayor@london.gov.uk), and I'll also be writing to my London Assembly Members using WriteToThem encouraging them to do take an interest.

This shouldn't be a question of party politics, or Boris bashing, it should be about ensuring that the right thing is done by the majority road user on this sensitive stretch of road.  That those road users are also the most environmentally friendly, the most vulnerable and supposedly the future of transport in our city makes this all the more important.  If you're not sure just how big a deal this, watch the video again and try to count the cyclists...

Get writing!

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Dave H said...

TfL's own (now historic) cycle survey of Northbound cycle traffic on Blackfriars bridge indicates that 15% of this cycle traffic is heading from Waterloo to the City - effectively parallel traffic to the eponymous Tube line. When (in 2006-07) the Tube line shut for rebuilding, cycle use at Waterloo exploded with the racks rammed so full that many cyclists needed help to park or extract their bikes. This route requires a right turn at Blackfriars and either the messy Upper Ground connection, or using the Stamford Street lights.

I've recorded this pictorially since 2002 (when the cycle lane opened, and in 8 years the cycle racks on the cab road have had to be increased in number from around 30 to over 320 (over 1000% in 8 years) and not counting the 126 Barclay bike spaces that empty in 30 minutes every morning between 07.15 and 07.45. There are 50 SWT leased Bromptons and those I've asked all went to The City from Waterloo, and a spot count at the most popular exit route (Exit3) gives a figure of over 500 bikes Plus an uncounted number in cycling kit going to the bike racks per hour. 40% of this number are Brompton bikes.

Exit 3 (and to a lesser extent Exits 1/2 are the key points to capture cyclists for a survey, and I'd suggest a simple count and handing out a request to e-mail of SMS a contact detail along with the start and end postcode for the journey, (with the SMS number/e-mail address identifying the cyclist as a WAT/WAE rail passenger.

I-bike do you reckon that floating an e-mail address and request for those using Blaskfriars Bridge to post their origin & destination postcodes plus an indication of frequency of use, and if a London rail station is the starting point

TfL's own figures show that cycles are now over 25% of the peak hour vehicle flows over London's river bridge crossingsand this number appears to have a heavy bias towards Blackfriars Bridge, with next rankings to London Bridge, and Waterloo Bridge (linked to the cycle-rail and direct routes in to the City core from South of the Thames from Borough High Street and Elephant & Castle/Lambeth respectively.

One ironic 'customer' for pedestrian (and possibly cycle) use across Blackfriars Bridge is the group of London Rail operators who use Friarsgate House as their London base...and the nearest stations include Blackfriars.

Anonymous said...

Maybe what we should have is a bridge dedicated to bicycles only put up on the pillars of the old bridge of the London, Chatham and Dover Railway. If it was only carrying bikes it would not be expensive, though I guess the entry and exit to it would be tricky.

kimbofo said...

Imagine if all those cyclists in your (excellent) video were in cars, then we would see endless tailbacks of taxis, etc.

ibikelondon said...

@stuff Quite. Indeed, in a previous video we found that if all of London's daily cyclsits rode an average car instead of a bike they'd make a tailback 2240km long.


Paul M said...

Brilliant film Mark, and great soundtrack!

I wrote to my MP this morning, and included a link to your post so he can see what the dry statistics mean for real.

There have been loads of letters and emails on this to TfL, and to a handful of sympathetic London Assembly members who have taken up the cudgels on this. We could really do with more people writing to their MPs, especially Conservatives and LibDems as the Pols on board so far are Labour and Green.

I don't think there is any point making technical comments to them (although you could link to CityCyclists' post with the Shawcross-Jones-Biggs letter). Personally, I majored on how a pro-car roads policy, however appropriate (or not) in Orpington or Guildford makes absolutely no sense in the middle of a huge city with minimal parking, stratospheric land values, and (relatively) excellent public transport facilities, and how the emphasis on the economic cost of road congestion is misdirected - there at least 10 time as many people walking London's streets as driving them, and (perhaps cynically) on average their £ per hour value is rather higher.

They just don't have lobby groups like the SMMT and the oil companies to shout louder for them.

Anonymous said...

I'm struck by the huge predicted jump in foot trafic on the bridge, which TFL plan to accommodate with... a 50% increase in the speed limit for traffic!

You couldn't make it up if you tried.


Dave said...

has anyone counted the traffic in this, I got to 200 cyclists and had to give up there must be getting on for 300... its a bit hard to guage the number of cars and buses from this... is this video a fair representation or have you cut out cars?

Where you can see the whole road eg the shot of the lights at 1'32" to 1'43" there are 24 bikes to 5 motorbikes/scooters, 3 black cabs and 6 cars... these sort of figures on the bridge should be devastating to TFLs capacity obsession.

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